The killing of a Santa Rosa woman by an undocumented immigrant two weeks ago has exposed a constitutional feud between federal and county governments over the detention of immigrants at the Sonoma County Jail.
The dispute stems from the release of a Guatemalan national, Nery Israel Estrada- Margos, 38, who bailed out of the jail Aug. 3, a day after being booked on domestic battery charges.
While in custody, Estrada- Margos’ fingerprints matched those in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement database.
The federal agency sent an immigration detainer request to jail officials, asking them to hold Estrada-Margos for up to 48 hours so it could take him into federal custody because he had returned to the country illegally after a 2008 deportation to Guatemala.
But the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t recognize such detainer requests. Estrada-Margos went free on $30,000 bail. Two weeks later, on Aug. 18, he turned himself into Santa Rosa police saying he killed his girlfriend, Veronica Cabrera Ramirez, 42, after a domestic dispute.
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office maintains that holding an inmate for any length of time past their scheduled release because of immigration status is unconstitutional and violates an inmate’s Fourth Amendment rights.
“The county can be held liable for false imprisonment should an inmate be held past their release time,” said Sgt. Spencer Crum, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, citing a 2014 U.S. District Court case in Oregon.
Instead, the Sheriff’s Office treats ICE detainer requests as requests for notification of release, a Department of Homeland Security form. Before Estrada-Margos was released from custody, jail officials did notify ICE of his impending departure.
But James Schwab, a spokesman for ICE’s San Francisco office, contends the jail only gave a 16-minute notice before Estrada-Margos walked out the front door of the county jail.
“Sixteen minutes is typical. And look what happens when we don’t communicate with each other,” Schwab said, referencing the death of Cabrera Ramirez. “The majority of time we get a very short notice from the Sheriff’s Office.”
If the Sheriff’s Office gave ICE at least 48 hours notice of a flagged inmate’s release, agents would pick up every person for deportation proceedings, Schwab said.
As of Aug. 15, roughly 25 percent of the 176 inmates flagged by ICE this year have been picked up by federal immigration agents at the county jail, according to data recently released by the Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Rob Giordano initiated a new policy Aug. 18 to limit cooperation with ICE at the county jail, the same day Cabrera Ramirez died in her home from undisclosed injuries, allegedly at the hands of Estrada-Margos.
While the Sheriff’s Office once responded to every ICE notification request, jail officials now only respond if a person has been convicted of a felony listed by the California Trust Act, a 2014 state law that limits immigration holds. The jail also responds when a flagged inmate has been convicted of a Trust Act misdemeanor and roughly a dozen other crimes within the last five years. The additional misdemeanors, chosen by Giordano, include DUIs, battery and sex crimes relating to minors.
Inmates are now also given the right through an attorney to contest the Sheriff’s Office decision to notify ICE of their release.